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With an NBC camera focused on him at last month's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Sharrif Floyd, a defensive tackle from Philadelphia, was ready to announce where he would play college football. Floyd turned to Ron Cohen, his coach at George Washington High, and asked him for the hat bearing his choice. "University of Florida," Cohen yelled, handing Floyd a blue Gators lid.
Viewers may have been scratching their heads. Had one of the nation's top-ranked tackles just said he would sign with a program going through head-coaching uncertainty? Yes, Floyd was aware that Urban Meyer had resigned for health reasons two weeks earlier and then hastily retracted that statement, saying that he would take an indefinite leave of absence. And on signing day last week the 6'3", 310-pound Floyd affirmed that commitment. "At the end of the day, Florida's going to be Florida," he said, dismissing Meyer's status as a factor in choosing the perennial national title contender.
The decision of Floyd and dozens of other recruits last week certified that a highly successful program transcends its coach, no matter the shuffling at the top.
In addition to the Gators, USC and Tennessee also thrived on national signing day despite coaching changes in January, the most critical month of the recruiting year. The sudden departure of Pete Carroll, who left USC for the Seattle Seahawks, and the arrival of the controversial Lane Kiffin from Tennessee didn't stop the Trojans from signing a top class. "That's SC," said Kiffin. "All-Americans on both sides of the ball.... It's a pretty easy sell."
So it was for Corona (Calif.) High defensive back Demetrius Wright, who committed to the Trojans just before Carroll left and then stuck with USC. "That's my dream school," Wright says. "Pete Carroll wasn't there when it was my dream school, so [his departure] really doesn't matter."
Even more so Kiffin's successor, Derek Dooley, whose three recruiting classes at Louisiana Tech while he was the coach finished in the bottom half of Division I-A, was helped by his new school's reputation. With just 20 days to salvage a class before signing day, Dooley retained 11 of the 19 players who had committed to Tennessee before Kiffin bolted, including defensive end Corey Miller of Duncan, S.C. The son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, Derek also raided his home state, getting signed letters from quarterback Nash Nance of Calhoun, Ga.; tailback Rajion Neal of Tyrone, Ga.; and on signing day the state's most sought-after player, one of Nance's teammates, receiver Da'Rick Rogers.
"Tennessee has so much to sell," Dooley says. "It wasn't as hard as people think to go out and convince some of these young men to come to Tennessee."
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